Engaging, real-world characters not in the real world; savvy and outright charming.

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The Alpha Drive

In Martin’s YA sci-fi debut, the start of a proposed trilogy reminiscent of The Matrix, a teen girl learns that her world is a simulated reality, an organization having rendered all of humankind in a comatose state.

It’s only Emery Parker’s second day at renowned boarding school Darden Preparatory, and the administration’s already sent for her. She meets Theo Barker, head of the Federal Commonwealth, who immediately drops this bombshell: the world Emery knows isn’t real. According to Theo, a group called the Seventh Sanctum, after toppling governments across the globe, combatted corruption by inducing a “worldwide coma.” Emery has trouble believing she and everyone else currently reside in simulated world Dormance. But it’s a tad suspicious that, by the mid-21st century, there’s been no technological advancement in 28 years. So she agrees to join The Alpha Drive, an initiative to overthrow 7S. Meanwhile, 7S’s Cpl. Torin Porter hasn’t made much progress hacking into FCW’s mainframe. Tampering with Emery’s newly embedded microchip may give him a way in, but rather than tell his superiors, Torin makes contact with Emery by himself. As the girl undergoes rigorous training in preparation for entering the uncertain 7S world, she must decide if she trusts Theo and the FCW, because soon, she and other Alpha Drive participants will be fighting to break people free of Dormance. The author retains a steady uneasiness throughout her tale. Emery isn’t sure if she’s working for the good guys or bad and is perpetually worried about the microchip in her neck; if someone spots it, wiped memories will ensue. But even Emery’s typical school life is filled with turmoil: she’s weary of her boyfriend and is involved in a teenage love triangle. Martin slyly leaves open seemingly endless possible scenarios, from one of Emery’s peers having a microchip to enemies operating covertly in her midst. The action-laden ending is a little rushed but does include marvelous connections to the protagonist’s sporadic visions in training sessions. Though Martin ably concludes this first installment, questions linger, like why Emery is evidently so important to FCW.

Engaging, real-world characters not in the real world; savvy and outright charming.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9968605-1-2

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Black Falcon Press

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2016

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A thrilling romance that could use more even pacing.

THE STARS WE STEAL

For the second time in her life, Leo must choose between her family and true love.

Nineteen-year-old Princess Leonie Kolburg’s royal family is bankrupt. In order to salvage the fortune they accrued before humans fled the frozen Earth 170 years ago, Leonie’s father is forcing her to participate in the Valg Season, an elaborate set of matchmaking events held to facilitate the marriages of rich and royal teens. Leo grudgingly joins in even though she has other ideas: She’s invented a water filtration system that, if patented, could provide a steady income—that is if Leo’s calculating Aunt Freja, the Captain of the ship hosting the festivities, stops blocking her at every turn. Just as Leo is about to give up hope, her long-lost love, Elliot, suddenly appears onboard three years after Leo’s family forced her to break off their engagement. Donne (Brightly Burning, 2018) returns to space, this time examining the fascinatingly twisted world of the rich and famous. Leo and her peers are nuanced, deeply felt, and diverse in terms of sexuality but not race, which may be a function of the realities of wealth and power. The plot is fast paced although somewhat uneven: Most of the action resolves in the last quarter of the book, which makes the resolutions to drawn-out conflicts feel rushed.

A thrilling romance that could use more even pacing. (Science fiction. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-328-94894-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Few chills and even less logic.

BENT HEAVENS

Can Liv put the pieces of her life back together after her father’s mental breakdown?

In rural Bloughton, Iowa, Liv takes solace in the cross country team and the idea that she will be off to college before too long. Three years ago, her father, the high school’s former English and drama teacher, vanished only to return naked and talking about alien abduction. He disappeared for good eight months later. Liv and her friend Doug check the elaborate traps her father built in the woods during those eight months every Sunday. The teacher who replaced him decides to stage the same musical that was her father’s swan song, and after getting in trouble for an outburst over her insensitivity, Liv decides to destroy the traps…but discovers that one has caught an alien. After hiding the horrifying creature in her father’s shed, they discover it has her father’s compass. In anger, Liv attacks the beast and then she and Doug torture it repeatedly as revenge for her missing father…but the alien is not what they perceive him to be, and as the truth is revealed, the horror mounts. Kraus’ (Blood Sugar, 2019, etc.) newest horror fantasy (there is no science here) might inspire more anger than horror as the protagonists respond to otherness with violence. Outrage will likely be followed by laughter at the stagy, manipulative, over-the-top conclusion. Most characters seem to be white.

Few chills and even less logic. (Horror. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-15167-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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